Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    Rethinking Church Camp Pt. 5

    This continues our series of posts contemplating a less program/activity-driven approach to summer church camp. You can read the previous posts here, here, here and here.

    So, what if you wanted to focus your week of camp entirely around inviting youth to experience various spiritual practices? They are called "practices" for a reason. It takes time and intentional effort, for example, to learn what it means to keep sabbath, to pray, to honor one's body, and to make these practices part of one's daily life. How about focusing your week of camp around one particular spiritual practice and really inviting youth to immerse themselves in experiencing it? One good place to go for resources is the Johnsonburg Presbyterian Camp website where you will find free curriculum specifically written for church camps focused on various spiritual practices (plus see examples of the camper journals they put together to give to the youth). And here and here you will find complete camp curriculum written by some of my Disciples of Christ colleagues focused on the practice of communion and hospitality.
    If we really get creative about this, engaging youth in spiritual practices doesn't just have to happen during "family group" or worship or Bible study. At my camp, we often have a time set aside in the afternoon for "interest groups." This is time for youth to choose to play sports, do an art project, take a hike, etc. Though an attempt is often made to tie these activities into the week's theme (particularly the art projects) oftentimes they are simply fun or creative activities that we think the youth will enjoy. How about focusing these activities on spiritual disciplines: A hike focused on the practice of pilgrimage, a craft project centered on the theme of compassion, a creative writing activity focused on Lectio Divina, a sports activity focused on cooperation and nurture, a musical challenge focused on prayer, a nature activity focused on silence? How might such an approach help youth begin to see that we do not engage our spirituality and connect with God just when we are being "religious" but rather we can be aware of God all the time, in everything we do. If they can learn this at camp, maybe they will be more open to the possibility back home, experiencing God at work, while driving a car, at school when they are taking a test, even (heaven forbid!) at church!


    suzanne said...

    I'm loving the posts about re-thinking church camp. I <3 church camp!! and I'm always looking for ways to enrich those camp experiences.
    One of the most spiritually enriching high school camps I've been a part of was a few years ago in TX. There was an intentional spiritual purpose to just about every activity, and we also really ulitized some great spiritual practices. Integrating any of the few things this camp did to a camp you are doing this summer should be simple and very powerful.
    - We set up a Quiet Space in what was usually a small group meeting space. Each day there were 4-5 creative prayer stations for youth to experience. They could come to this space during any break, free-time, or a small group could go together.
    - We observed 15 minutes of silence (the silent 15) after dinner each night. The beginning and ending of this time was marked by the dinner bell ringing. Youth were encouraged to spread out around the camp. They could read, just watch and notice, journal, whatever they wanted. Some would go to the Quiet Space at this time. It was amazing how many youth (Disciples' youth) carried their Bibles around during this camp.
    - In addition to the silent 15, we also observed a night of silence.
    - The small groups and interest groups also engaged in spiritual practices.
    It was definitely an amazing week of camp--one of my most memorable and powerful. And it also included the 'normal' crazy camp stuff.

    I was also part of a new camp in TX designed specifically for 9th graders (just completed). We focused on discovering and using spiritual gifts--and we really leaned on spiritual disciplines. It was a week of developing and equipping spiritual leaders. Again, a very powerful camping experience.

    This summer the KC Region will be using the ideas and concept from the above camp as a template for our 8th grade youth. All of the camps (ages 5-12th grade) will engage in spiritual practices, as our curriculum is really focusing more on equipping the children/youth with the tools to deepen and sustain their spiritual growth when they leave the camp setting. The 8th grade camp will have a little more focus on the spiritual gifts and leadership elements.

    I hope these thoughts are helpful to the discussion on rethinking church camp.
    Peace & blessings,

    Brian said...

    Thanks so much for posting and sharing these great ideas. I love the notion of creating a quiet space with rotating prayer stations! I'm definitely going to suggest that to my camp staff. And I'm glad to see that models of camp that emphasize spiritual disciplines are being explored. Thanks for sharing your camp experiences with us.

    Cathy Myers Wirt said...

    We do a night of silence Thursday night of camp and have for 7 years. We go into silence at the end of campfire on Thursday night and then we "break the silence" after breakfast the next day with worship. Youth have come to expect it, and with about 2/3 of our campers being returners each year, we have to explain it to only 1/3 of the camp.

    We have learned from other years not to do a quiet activity on Thursday night such as a movie or long talk, as the gregarious folks cannot tolerate a sit still evening and then silence too. We do loud and rowdy games on Thursday night so that the silence is a contrast.

    We practice silence in the mornings all week with a morning watch time after the keynote and before small groups. We sing the chorus of one of our camp songs LOUD 2 times, SOFT 2 times and in our heads 2 times (with guitars still playing to keep us together) and then we go in silence into a field where we sit apart from each other but we can all still see each other. They have prayer journals they are given on Monday morning to use to doodle, write, pray in but the time is theirs -- suggestions given at the end of keynote are merely that, suggestions -- we trust their wisdom. After they have been in the field for a spell, the bell rings and they come back to the circle in silence and we break the silence with the singing of the chorus one last time, a short spoken prayer and then to small groups. This has worked for us for 7 years. The silence gets longer every day. This year is started to mist/rain when we sent them to morning watch and they did not flinch and complained when the bell rang too soon. They count on this time and many list it as highlight of camp == not just the adults!

    Brian said...

    Cathy, thanks so much for posting. We found the night of silence to be a big plus this year and I'm glad to see that it can indeed become a tradition that youth will look forward to each summer. I also appreciate your description of morning watch. It's a bit different than the way we tried this summer and I think we'll use your approach next summer! Peace,